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New Ulm Medical Center

The Heart of New Ulm FoodWorks Program

FoodWorks cooks up new strategies to change how New Ulm residents are eating

Whether it’s in a restaurant, on the road or in a grocery store, food choices affect your health and your heart.

 Demonstrations at the recent Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project Food Expo included a cooking demonstration by the Minnesota Pork Board.

Demonstrations at the recent Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project Food Expo included a cooking demonstration by the Minnesota Pork Board.

By looking at the big picture of how food options affect a community’s health, Rebecca Fliszar, a registered dietitian with Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project, has worked to make “FoodWorks” a critical component of the project. What started out as a cooking demonstration has blossomed into a systematic lifestyle-changing effort.

“The Heart of New Ulm Project (HONU) set out to change the culture in our community,” said Fliszar. “It started out with us offering healthy cooking classes to the community. Then, about two years ago, we started a healthy cooking television show on our local public access channel. We’ve now expanded to programs with local restaurants, convenience stores and grocery stores.”

FoodWorks and Restaurants

The Heart of New Ulm Project acknowledged that eating out is common among Americans, so the team created a restaurant program for New Ulm’s eateries. Participating restaurants have agreed to implement practices such as offering items with more fruits and vegetables and fewer total calories, using healthier fats when cooking, and offering whole grain options (for example, whole-wheat bread). Restaurants can achieve one of three levels of certification: Gold, Silver or Bronze. The level of participation is set by the number of healthy practices offered. Those who achieve Gold status work directly with the Heart of New Ulm Project’s staff to develop Heart of New Ulm-approved menu items.

“We have 9 restaurants overall involved with the program, and four have reached the Gold level,” said Fliszar. “We invite people to stop in and experience just how tasty foods can be when prepared with better health in mind!”

 Offering free samples at the recent Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project Food Expo were Turner Hall (foreground) and George’s Fine Spirits and Steaks (background). Both restaurants are gold level members in the HONU Foodworks program.

Offering free samples at the recent Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project Food Expo were Turner Hall (foreground) and George’s Fine Spirits and Steaks (background). Both restaurants are gold level members in the HONU Foodworks program.

FoodWorks and Convenience Stores

By partnering with local convenience stores like Holiday and Kwik Trip, FoodWorks also increased the number of healthier choices for people on the go.

Both Holiday and Kwik Trip feature posters and brochures that encourage customers to choose snacks and other food purchases wisely — and the stores themselves have stocked up on healthier products, so it’s easier for customers to do the right thing. Customers are encouraged to pick up baked potato chips instead of fried, fresh fruit instead of cookies, or bottled water instead of soda.

“Our informal research has shown that about half the people who see these signs make a healthier choice,” said Fliszar.

FoodWorks and Grocery Stores

Even when preparing meals at home, many people still need some assistance. In another component of FoodWorks, HONU has teamed up with local grocery stores to offer aisle- by-aisle guided tours. The tours usually take about an hour and provide information about the nutritional content of various items in the store.

“People are creatures of habit, and I think the tours help people change some of the staples they buy and explore new options,” said Fliszar. For example, people are more likely to try whole grains like couscous, quinoa or whole-grain rice instead of refined pastas and breads. They’re also more likely to stock up in the produce aisle than they were previously, she said.

The Results

Though it’s difficult to quantify the specific impact that FoodWorks has had on the community, there’s no question that overall, the Heart of New Ulm Project’s efforts have been successful in encouraging healthier eating habits.

“We recently had a new round of health screenings, and compared to two years ago, people are eating more fruits and vegetables, are more physically active, have a lower body mass index and have lower blood pressure,” said Fliszar.

For more about the Hearts Beat Back: The Heart of New Ulm Project and the FoodWorks program, visit the website and choose the FoodWorks tab.